Piedras Verdes, loosely translated in English as "Mystic Stones", is the debut feature of director Ángel Flores Torres and starts out as pure soap opera melodrama but becomes something else. In fact, both Vanessa Bauche and veteran Mexican soap star Blanca Sánchez are no strangers to the genre. Bauche may be better known to English viewers who will remember her as Susanna in the acclaimed Perros Amores.
Here she is Mariana, who has been sold as a black market baby to a rich and powerful Mexican couple when her mother unexpectedly dies in a horrible accident in the beginning scenes of the movie. She is sent off to Catholic boarding school until her adoptive father dies and she returns home, ambivalent about her life and plans. She clashes wills with her stepmother and after her car is stolen by a valet, of all things, she is evicted from the house and refused any inheritance. The most striking thing here is her determination and her strong willed determination to persevere in the face of adversity, and Bauche conveys this impressively.
From there, her situation quickly deteriorates after she tries recreational drugs and moving in with a wealthy playboy. Her boyfriend becomes abusive and during one altercation she pushes him out the window, accidentally. She assumes he is dead and hastily runs away, not knowing where to go or what to do. Up to this point, the movie treads no new ground and is fairly predictable, yet it is all interesting somehow. The scenes where Mariana interacts with her stepmother provide the movie with the most momentum, unfortunately it is at this point her stepmother becomes ill and dies. It is here the movie becomes confusing, as it unexpectedly shifts gears and essentially changes genres, becoming a road movie (similar to Lucia, Lucia, a movie in which the pilgrimmage thing was presented much better). But it's a bad move, as director Torres leaves conventional ground and the movie uncomfortably changes scenes from Mexico City to the jungle, practically grinding to a halt and becoming bogged down in subterfuge, and later strange mystical going ons. Thereafter, the scene changes once again to the northern desert and stays there the rest of the movie, slightly picking up speed as she unravels information leading her to her real father, but losing focus again during a mystical desert sojourn which is confusing to the viewer. To put it bluntly, the movie bites off more than it can chew and spit out. Torres had a good thing going with the firm plot and characters he put forth, so it's not quite clear why he felt the need to convert the movie into something else than what he started out to convey. Bauche's acting is good, and in the first part when the focus is on her survival and ingenuity it clicks. I thought the usual themes of alienation, social isolation, violence in the barrio and police corruption would be addressed here, but they are just skimmed over here.
No, this movie turns into a young woman's quest to find her biological father, which isn't as interesting as you'd think it would be. Frustratingly, the movie doesn't tie up loose ends, but leaves the viewer hanging. Director Torres intentions are good since it's obvious he is trying to discard the soap opera cliché in the beginning by embracing something unconventional, but there he is simply trying to cover too much territory. The premise set up in the beginning, though conventional, was a good thing, so why did he change it?
Ultimately, this movie isn't really bad, but could've been so much better. It's interesting to note that this same theme, reworked and thrown together with several other subplots, was presented again a year after this movie as an individual story in "Ciudades Oscuras" (2002).
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